BT defended its strategy around the deployment of superfast broadband in the UK, as its competitors rounded on it for effectively blocking third-party investment in high-performance fibre infrastructure in the UK.

BT maintained the UK ranks well against other European markets for broadband access, performance and market competitiveness, and said its stance on FTTH tech was pragmatic. 

Mark Shurmer, Group Director of Regulatory Affairs at BT, said: “It frustrates me people portray BT as being against FTTH. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re trying to deliver to deliver the speeds people need at the prices they’re prepared to pay. 

“We’re confident we have the right mix for the UK. We’re confident with our business case. And that’s evident in the speed of commercial rollout in the UK, and the coverage the market has. We’re not saying there’s not more to do but the UK stands up well against its peers.”

But Vodafone took up elements of Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications to blast the state of UK broadband infrastructure, and call for more investment in FTTH services.

“We share Ofcom’s view that fibre is the future and commend it on its commitment to the rollout of future-proofed FTTH so the UK can stop languishing behind its global peers,” it said in a statement. 

Vodafone welcomed the requirement for BT to provide proper access to its ducts and poles so that competitors can look to lay their own fibre networks.

“This approach has led to high fibre rollouts in other European countries such as Portugal and Spain by creating an environment of sustainable competition encouraging investment by both the national incumbent and competitors,” it said. 

“However, its success in the UK depends on the quality of those ducts and conditions for access; we await Ofcom’s confirmation of the measures it is prepared to take if BT’s ducts are not fit for purpose.”

Read more: Back up plans and in-house cabling: the trials and tribulations of FTTH in Europe

The FTTH Council Europe also “saluted” the emphasis Ofcom appears to have placed on FTTH in its report.

Market forces will deliver FTTH in urban areas where sharing of passive infrastructure and the removal of regulated access are in place, it said.

At the same time, it raised concerns the business case in rural areas will often require public intervention, and could deepen a digital divide between urban and rural users. 

Edgar Aker, President of the FTTH Council Europe, said: “The policy proposals are certainly moving in a direction that will prioritise FTTH and accelerate deployment in the UK.

"While the UK ranks close to last in FTTH in Europe, [and] hence does not qualify to be listed in the Global FTTH rankings, with the right policy response Ofcom can help the UK to quickly move to the other end of the table and join the league of FTTH leading economies.” 

BT It reasserted that its FTTC services are delivering speeds of up to 80Mbps already, that it is working in places to deliver FTTP for greenfield sites and small businesses, and has set down plans to install G.Fast technology in the final delivery to reach speeds of 300Mbps-500Mbps in its network.

It said it will deliver such a service to 10 million homes by 2020 and the majority of the UK by 2025.

Shurmer said: “We need to look at most efficient and cost effective solution for supplying fibre to our customers. FTTP has an important role to play, but for the vast majority of people, the most cost effective route is to supply FTTC. We welcome others making investments. But from our own experience, it’s very expensive, with long paybacks.

“The investments we’ve made in superfast broadband through Openreach haven’t paid back in 20 years. If you were to install FTTH everywhere, most independent analysts would say that would cost five to six times as much – so instead of looking at payback in 20 years, you’re looking at payback of 80 or 100 years or more.”

He added: “I’m not sure anyone out there has deep enough pockets to do that.”

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